A couple of weeks ago I discussed taking a Digital Sabbath Rest, which I defined as abstaining from all computers, smart phones, and tablets for one day out of the week. After I wrote that essay, I thought, “Gee, if I’m gonna encourage people to do stuff like that, maybe I should try it myself.”
So, that’s exactly what I did: on a recent Sunday I went an entire 24-hour period without turning on the computer, looking at an iPad, or grabbing my cell phone.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, let me point out that I did turn on my cell phone twice, at noon and at 6 p.m., just to make sure there were no urgent messages. With my luck, the day I shut everything off would be the day a loved-one needed to contact me because of an emergency. But on this particular day there was no problem—other than the problem of forcing myself to shut the phone back off after checking for messages, which was an extreme test of will.
This exercise taught me a few things about myself: first, even though I am old enough to remember when Mass was always said in Latin, when it comes to electronic gizmos, I’m no different than a high school sophomore. All day long during my Digital Sabbath I kept reaching for my pants pocket, and then when I didn’t feel my phone, I had a moment of panic. “Oh no! Where’s my phone?!” I thought in horror, before remembering my daylong digital fast. Then I had a feeling of relief, knowing the phone wasn’t lost, which was quickly followed by a feeling of genuine sadness, as I realized I could not look at my phone’s screen, the one thing my Pavlovian brain craved at that moment.
The second thing I learned about myself is that I’m pretty sure I’ve developed a case of D.A.D.D. (Digital Attention Deficit Disorder). When I tried to relax and enjoy my day of rest by engaging in some old-school media, such as a newspaper or a book, I had a tough time concentrating. My mind kept wandering and was filled with random thoughts, most of which gave me the urge to do a Google search because I suddenly needed to know a completely useless bit of trivia. I basically have the attention span of a chipmunk on crack.
However, after a few hours I finally settled down and began to enjoy the peace and quiet. By the end of the day, I had read a large chunk of a novel, took a nap, read the Bible for a while, went for a walk, worked on a new essay (using notebook paper and a pencil—what a concept!) and prayed a Rosary.
At one point, I went almost a full hour without reaching for my phone and panicking when it wasn’t in my pocket. By the end of the day, I had developed a noticeable increase in serenity. Now, to be clear, I did not turn into Thomas Merton in one day. I’d say I was more like a chipmunk after a couple of vodka and tonics.
(By the way, I am in no way trying to make light of the epidemic of substance abuse in the chipmunk community. Those furry little critters have their own crosses to bear, especially with winter coming, and it’s very sad whenever one of them succumbs to the lure of drugs or alcohol. I wanted to make sure you understood that it’s nothing personal; I’m just the king of really bad analogies.)
I truly believe my Digital Sabbath Rest was good for my soul and brought me closer to God. And I encourage everyone to give it a try. You have nothing to lose, except maybe a crack-like addiction to glowing screens and the attention span of a humming bird after four double-espressos. (See what I mean about bad analogies? It’s kind of my thing.)